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Doctor Who: Snakedance (parts three and four)

We had a theory that as the story went on, our son would be less creeped out and frightened by “Snakedance,” and when the Doctor wins, everything would be just fine. Didn’t happen. To my surprise, he remained worried by this story right through the end, spending most of part three on his mom’s lap, and he was still so bothered that he insisted on bringing both his security blanket and his favorite stuffed animal to dinner.

“In fairness,” I said, “we are going out after dark.”

“Yeah,” he replied, “I don’t like dark and I don’t like snakes!”

Never mind him. I think “Snakedance” is terrific. It’s one of my favorite stories of the eighties. I really like Martin Clunes’ bored diplomat, and I love the relationship he has with his smothering mother, who gives him a believably obnoxious passive-aggressive silent treatment when he tells her to back off. All of the dialogue and the character relationships in this story are so natural. It’s a million miles removed from whatever tin ear penned the last story.

One final note: partway through the last season, Marie asked, not unreasonably, whether these people were ever going to change clothes. Even Leela found a second set of leathers, so you had to wonder why Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan never raided the TARDIS closets. (Especially when one imagines Tegan might not have wanted to stain or tear her Air Australia uniform until she was certain they were safely back in 1981.) Adric never did find anything new to wear, but Tegan has changed into an awful white ensemble that actress Janet Fielding didn’t like and once called her “boob tube.” And now finally Nyssa has found some new clothes, which calls into question just who in the world stocked the TARDIS wardrobe in the first place. Funny how nobody ever cosplays in this hideous thing, isn’t it?

Between the two halves of this story, our son asked to watch “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” Jodie Whittaker’s first episode, again. There’s a bit toward the end where the Doctor mentions that it’s been a long time since she shopped for women’s clothes. I wonder, at some point when she was in her first or second incarnation, did she say “I should probably buy racks and racks and racks of clothes since I’m going to have a never-ending stream of young people from Earth gallivanting around with me.” Somebody should be blamed for Nyssa’s weird space waitress costume. Was it Troughton’s Doctor? I bet it was Troughton.

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Doctor Who: Snakedance (parts one and two)

Even while I’ve grumbled about the last two Doctor Who stories, our son has been loving this run of adventures, and really enjoys Peter Davison’s Doctor. So naturally, we get to my favorite Davison story and he’s utterly miserable. “Snakedance,” which was written by Christopher Bailey and directed by Fiona Cumming, features the return of the Mara and an early TV appearance by future sitcom megastar Martin Clunes as a bored young aristocrat. I think it’s a tremendously entertaining story that moves at a much faster pace than a typical Who adventure, but our son protests that it’s too creepy and too scary. It’s full of dark caves and possessions and Tegan acting malicious and evil.

Of course, another reason our son may be less than thrilled is because he saw right through a visual effect again. This doesn’t happen often, in part because he’s perfectly happy to suspend disbelief, but when it happens, he’s disappointed. In “Kinda,” the first story with the Mara, the creature manifests itself as a snake tattoo on its victims’ arms. In this story, the makeup and costume department evidently decided to save a little time and slap a big decal on the actors’ forearms rather than drawing and painting something. “That looks like a sticker,” he snorted.

I chose the picture above because “Snakedance” has a pretty unique point of view for the show: the Doctor comes across as an unhinged lunatic. Imagine the mayor of a big city working with the local archbishop to plan the annual Easter celebrations, and now dump in some loudmouthed nut in a cricket uniform bellowing that the ceremonies must be cancelled because Satan’s coming back. That’s kind of what the Doctor’s doing here, crashing dinner parties and yelling at everybody that the devil’s real before he gets dragged away by the cops. And the local dignitaries are perfectly reasonable and rational people; they’re not depicted as the typical meatheads who need to pay attention to our sensible hero. Hopefully the Doctor can take it down a notch so he can save the day. Maybe a night cooling off in the local jail’s drunk tank will help?

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